A Response to Where in the World are We Going?
No doubt the conservatives who challenged the Iraq war were right, though having been one of the sceptics from the beginning, I must say that my scepticism was never a jolly one. It would have been a grand and good thing had it really been possible to achieve free government in Iraq simply by ousting the tyrant. Sadly, Iraq turned out to be a nation divided against itself. The vast majority of Iraqi deaths came at the hands of Iraqis–I do not even know anymore, given the deep ethnic and religious divisions there, whether one can speak of Iraqis as such. In fact, I fear I simply do not know anything about that part of the world.
The tragedy of the war is that Americans sacrificed their blood, treasure and civil liberties for a people who did not want them there and had no interest in becoming a constitutional republic by and large. No successful republic has ever, in fact, sprung from without, via foreign imposition. It was all so much like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and all so far from lofty parallels to the liberation of France.
It is almost as though we are reliving the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The American revolution, which was a restoration and refinement of British traditions in accordance with the very best of western thought has its’ parallel in the Polish and Eastern European revolutions of 1989, where centuries old traditions of Christian liberalism reasserted themselves. Just as friends of liberty grew optimistic in the face of 1776 and were then horrified by the excess and terror of the French Revolution and subsequent Napoleonic wars, so we moderns are horrified that Baghdad and Kabul are not Warsaw and Prague.
Fine. But what now? Following Napoleon, conservative efforts at restoring the ancient regime failed because it was an untenable proposition–as proven by the fact that it could not absorb and calm revolutionary fervor. Thus the tilt to a realism and pragmatism in Europe which saw an effort at building a balance of power. Yet man is a spiritual being, and just as it is absurd to expect domestic peace if a family is founded simply on a pragmatic balance of power between father and mother, all the more so nations so organized will not resist the passions of peoples unsatisfied with their fate.
The same spectacle is being played out today. Is not this Arab Spring, this great cauldron of blood and terror, not a direct parallel to the French revolution? Just as the Eastern Europeans had a moderate and successful replay of the American revolution?
What then are we faced with? It is relatively easy given western might to alter the balance of power, but near impossible to alter men’s souls so as to build a lasting peace. Perhaps then all we can do is to focus inward, repair not only America’s soul, but the Western soul, as Bennedict XVI is trying to do. Yet there is ultimately always going to be something in our souls that reminds us that all men are created equal with certain inalienable rights and we will never be capable of being apathetic about the universal rights of man. The key is to match our eventual idealism with prudence and a more tragic and less enthusiastic view of humanity.
Leo Strauss and Harry Jaffa were keenly aware that there was what Aristotle called politeae which meant the character of a people as moulded by custom and patrimony. This thing always superceded any written laws and would reassert itself mightily if tampered with. But this thing was also the result of the prudent application of law over time. The key is “over time.” Sadly, we may not live to see the day when the Islamic world comes to terms with itself, just as the republicans and men of good will of the Founding era did not live to see a decent republicanism take hold in France, but instead witnessed the folly of placing all hope in abstraction.
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